Fox News host Tucker CarlsonTucker CarlsonGlenn Beck says he has COVID-19 for second time Fox News tops ratings for coverage on Jan. 6 anniversary events The Hill’s 12: 30 Report: Biden comes out swinging in 2022 MORE isn’t the most powerful conservative in the country.
That label still has to be applied to former President TrumpDonald TrumpGallego on Jan. 6 rioters: ‘F— them’ Psaki: Why is GOP afraid of presidential debates? Democracy is on life support — and the GOP wants to pull the plug MORE, who continues to influence the GOP at nearly every level of government as he considers a bid for reelection in 2024.
Yet with Trump banned from major social media platforms, Carlson, the top-rated host on Fox, is increasingly seen as a kind of kingmaker within the GOP. In order to gain support from his audience, ambitious Republicans who want to rise to the White House have been willing to bow to him.
The power balance was on vivid display just last week on the night of Jan. 6, when Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Holmes Norton: Cruz effort to block DC student vaccine mandate ‘crosses the line’ The Hill’s Morning Report – For Biden, it goes from bad to worse MORE, the Texas Republican who finished second to Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, essentially apologized to Carlson as he tried to explain why he had described the attack on the Capitol a year earlier as “terrorism,” a description Carlson and his audience didn’t like.
“You called this a terror attack, when by no definition was it a terror attack. It’s a lie. Carlson told the senator, “You told that lie on purpose. I’m curious why you did.”
Carlson went on to question the sincerity of Cruz, calling his choice of words “sloppy.”
Cruz followed with several minutes of what news outlets described as “groveling” in an attempt to repair his image with Carlson’s audience and more broadly Trump’s base.
Amanda Carpenter, a former staffer for Cruz and now a columnist at the conservative but anti-Trump online publication The Bulwark, said during an interview with CNN last week the capitulation to Carlson and his viewers is an example of the senator’s “radicalization that happened right there in that interview.”
“This is how Tucker Carlson is guiding the message for the Republican Party on that network,” Carpenter said.
Jeff Cohen, a former cable news pundit and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media,” said Carlson’s rebuke of Cruz is the clearest example in recent memory of the influence conservative media figures have on GOP ideology.
“It’s very unusual in a democracy … where a political party is so influenced by the talking heads in the media,” Cohen said. “Fox News has had tremendous influence on the line and tone of the GOP, and the important issues the GOP considers to be important since [Rush] Limbaugh’s and Roger Ailes establishing Fox News with Murdoch’s money. And Tucker Carlson is now the king of Fox.”
Carlson’s show has exploded in popularity since it was launched in 2016. It is consistently rated the most watched cable program in prime-time among all major networks. Nielsen Media Research shows his program finished 2021 averaging 3.2 million total viewers a night. Nielsen Media Research shows that his program averaged 3.2 million viewers per night. The controversial segments, which cover topics such as crime and immigration, are frequently criticized by media watchdogs and liberals.
Carlson produced a three-part documentary series, released late last year on Fox’s streaming service, purporting to tell an “alternative” view of what led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and earned Fox a rebuke from leading members of the congressional committee investigating the attack.
The project, dubbed “Patriot Purge,” also sparked the resignation of two longtime conservative contributors at the network, though Fox argued at the time of their resignation that the network did not plan to renew their contracts.
Both Carlson and Fox News declined to provide comment for this report.
Though Carlson’s segments often play well with the GOP’s most conservative base, the host has not shied away from scrutinizing Trump World figures and the former president’s allies.
One example came in November of 2020, when just weeks after the presidential election Carlson appeared to question the veracity of claims about alleged voter fraud coming from Trump attorney Sidney Powell.
“We took Sidney Powell seriously. We didn’t intend to fight with her, but we have always respected her work. “We simply wanted to see all the details,” Carlson stated on his show about Powell’s unproven claims that there was a global conspiracy to commit voter theft.
“So we invited Sidney Powell on the show. We would have given Sidney Powell the entire hour. Actually, we would have given the entire week to her and listened quietly. That’s a huge story. Despite many requests and polite requests, she didn’t send us any evidence. She did not send us a single page. When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her.”
Carlson told his audience he was calling Powell out “because it’s true, and in the end, that’s all that matters. It’s the truth. It is our only hope. It’s our best defense. It is what sets us apart from others. We care about what is true. And we know you care, too.”
But Carlson faced unexpected backlash from Trump’s base for the statements, and he later updated his comments to say Powell’s lack of public evidence didn’t automatically disqualify her claims.
Media observers have noted Carlson’s relationship with the former president during his time in office has been decidedly less cozy than that of Fox’s other prime-time hosts.
Trump typically appeared on Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityMcCarthy says he won’t cooperate with ‘illegitimate’ Jan. 6 probe Jan. 6 panel fires back at Jordan over refusal to cooperate Fox News tops ratings for coverage on Jan. 6 anniversary events MORE‘s show or with opinion hosts like Lou DobbsLouis (Lou) Carl DobbsFormer Trump press aide: We went to Fox News ‘to get what we wanted out’ Court sets Smartmatic dismissal date on Giuliani, Bartiromo, others Fox News says Smartmatic lawsuit should be dismissed MORE and Mark LevinMark Reed LevinGlenn Beck says he has COVID-19 for second time Trump draws attention with admission he ‘fired Comey’ Fox News signs book deal with HarperCollins MORE during his time in the White House.
Carlson’s name was also absent from a list of high-profile Fox hosts who had reportedly been texting with former White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 panel asks McCarthy to cooperate Clay Aiken running again for Congress because North Carolina representatives ‘don’t represent me’ Hoyer vows support for contempt against uncooperative lawmakers in Jan. 6 probe MORE during the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, pleading with Meadows to get Trump to stop the rioting.
Early in the pandemic, Carlson reportedly traveled to Trump’s resort and residence in Florida to warn him about the seriousness of the coronavirus.
“I think Trump has a really finely calibrated sense of danger and I think it served him well. Carlson spoke out to Vanity Fair about the early days of this pandemic.
“And so while I’m not in daily contact with Trump, I do live sometimes in Washington–I know it really well and I know everybody, and I was watching this and I was thinking, ‘That’s just wrong.’ And look, I couldn’t have greater contempt for the people who present the news. They are the majority. I could not have more contempt. That’s what I mean. However, that doesn’t change what I believed was happening. The only thing that I can control is my words. And again, I felt like I had to do it, even though I suspected on some level it woul